COVID-19 Impact on University of Essex Finances

Information on how tuition fees are spent by the university.

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After asking the University since January, we have now got hold of student fees data from the Finance team.

This shows how tuition fees are spent and hopefully adds some transparency.

If anyone has any questions, please get in touch with Molly or Mark at

Essex Student Fees Data 

All content displayed as provided by the University

The main impact on the University’s finances, in academic year (AY) 2019-20. was the loss of £8.1m of income from Campus Services with £6.7m being due to students, rightly, being released from their accommodation licenses as they returned home to study on line. For similar reasons, income from Campus Services is forecast to be £13.3M down for AY 2020-21.

The University’s finances were stretched further by £10.4 m of investments to make our campuses COVID secure and to ensure staff and students can work and learn remotely:

  • £1.5m envelope set aside to ensure we have an asymptomatic testing facility on all campuses.
  • £1.7m investment in Zoom technology to enable dual mode teaching delivery.
  • £1.1m investment in soft facilities management and cleaning, including PPE.
  • £3.4m investment in online learning resources.
  • £1.0m investment in technical and infrastructure works to support business continuity and remote learning, including classroom modifications.
  • £930k in contract extensions and supporting roles for the development and roll out of dual mode delivery, including e-learning developers, Senior Educational Technologist, graduate teaching assistant support.

The University also more than doubled the funds available to support students in financial hardship this year, from £188k to £430k, provided additional funding to the SU to support activities for students and has made a provision of £325k for further support to the SU in this difficult year, if needed.

Overall, the impact of the pandemic resulted in the University having to renegotiate financial covenants with its princip lender, Lloyds Bank, and its capacity to offer further financial support, short of making staff redundant, is significantly constrained.

How Tuition Fees are Spent

Following a request from the SU sabbatical officers, the table on the next page was updated for AY 2019-20. The chart is calculated from Expenditure reported in the University’s TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing) Return that is submitted to the Office for Students each year. The numbers within the TRAC Return are derived from the audited financial statements and the TRAC Return, itself, is subject to regular external audits.

Costs are grouped into categories as follows:

  • Direct Teaching Costs - academic staff costs in support of teaching, including direct time, preparation, pastoral care of students and scholarship.
  • Teaching Facilities - estate management costs related to teaching.  For example, lecture halls, seminar rooms and a share of other space to support the delivery of teaching services.  For example, estate costs relating to faculty and department admin staff, academic offices and other space allocated for use by students, such as the Silberrad Centre.
  • Library - a share of the total cost of library services.  TRAC takes 75% of library costs towards teaching, 25% to research.
  • Admin - a share of costs relating to support services within the University.  For example, HR, Finance, and the Vice Chancellor's Office.
  • Employability & Academic Support - a share of the costs of Academic Section whose remit covers support for students and support for employability.
  • IT/Technology - Costs of IT Services relating to teaching - provision of PC labs and IT support.
  • Recruitment, Marketing & Communications - costs from Communications and External Relations.  Examples include staff costs, promotional materials and overseas agent fees, and regional office costs.
  • Student Welfare, Student Services & Bursaries - Costs of scholarships, Student Union support grant and Undergraduate bursaries.
  • Other Expenses - Miscellaneous costs not fitting other categories.

The SU sabbatical officers requested further breakdowns of this information by fee status.

This analysis was completed by the University’s Finance, Planning and Data Insight Section but the results were not found to be meaningful because every student experience is different. Further, it was difficult to compare particular costs of teaching with fees because there are so many different fee levels, discounts, waivers and scholarships.

In discussion with the SU President and VP Education, it was agreed that the data only made sense at the aggregated level provided by the TRAC Return. The advantage of looking at TRAC data is that, in normal years, it is possible to make comparisons with data collected for similar universities. This benchmarking data is collected via the TRAC for Teaching Return.

Due to the pandemic, the Office for Students did not collect the TRAC for Teaching Return for 2019-20. Nonetheless the SU President and VP Education thought that the following tables gave helpful insights into the extent to which full economic costs of teaching at Essex and other research active universities are covered by the tuition fees they receive.

It is important to note that the full economic costs used for these tables make no provision for the costs of research that contribute to teaching. Academics teach and provide course material from their own research. There is an expectation that international students should pay higher fees in order to cover the research contribution to teaching on the grounds that the UK government funds the research contribution to teaching for publicly funded students through the UK core research grant to universities.

The TRAC data shows that, for most years, home and EU tuition fees did not quite cover the full economic costs of teaching; with the balance of funding coming from universities’ trading activities. As explained above, the international fees more than cover the directly attributable cost of teaching but are higher in order to fund the research contribution to teaching. However, international fees at Essex are lower, relative to full economic costs than at comparable groups of universities (peer groups A and B) or the sector as a whole, supporting our belief that Essex provides better value for international students.

Andrew Keeble, Director of Finance, Planning and Data Insight.

Richard Fern, Deputy Director of Finance (Financial Reporting and Risk)

Dean Strohm, TRAC and Development Accountant.

19 March 2021


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